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The ‘Gap’ Between Theory and Practice

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    The ‘Gap’ between Theory and Practice Many articles have been published in regards to bridging the gap between theory and practice, which suggests there is a substantial gap between the transition from university to the workplace. This occurs in all industries, from information technology through to nursing, which has been described in the past as an “embarrassing failure” (Rafferty et al. , 1996 p. 685).

    The goal of university should be to properly equip students with relevant theory in their chosen field as well as the skills and practice to enable them to appropriately adapt and perform when they enter the workplace. Currently there is quite a strong general consensus that the gap not only exists and is pressing but is also increasing (Spouse 2001; Landers 2000). Current literature has examined the available knowledge surrounding the practice and theory gap, and a number of issues have been discovered.

    Prominently, the major question is whether or not the student is ready for the transition into a workplace from their years at university. Added to this, the perception of the lecturer or tutor in comparison to the perception of the student seems to contrast. It appears there is quite a significant gap between these two perceptions, after sifting through numerous articles concerned with this gap, no research has identified the theory and practice gap from the student’s perspective. This could prove to be one of the key downfalls in bridging the gap.

    As student’s priorities and understanding may differ from the teacher’s, therefore, from day one there is already a gap in regards to teaching methods. This can also be due to student’s lack of concentration and interest, which may be a result of too much theory and not enough practice. Another vital issue surrounding the theory practice gap, is very simple and generic, but key to bridging the gap, employability. A student’s employability, their general skills and attributes play a major role in the transition into work place.

    Adaptability and preparedness are essential for a smooth transition from university to work. Many other general attributes have been mentioned by Knoblauch and German (1989), such as working with others, oral communication and enthusiasm. Furthermore, Sparks and Bradley (1994) also discovered that hospitality employers place high importance on the graduates’ practical skills, level of commitment and ability to deliver high levels of service. If students don’t develop these basic attributes, it could be potentially detrimental to their mployability. However, the current situation in regards to bridging the gap between theory and practice seems to be declining. More research and survey’s are being conducted, most of which emphasise the importance on universities beginning to integrate generic skills and attributes into students coursework. This is in an attempt to bring their students to the level expected by future employers. In one of the researches, it was stated that employers were looking for manpower that has the ability to think, learn and adapt (Bennett et al 1999).

    As mentioned above, the student’s adaptability along with the other basic attributes will ultimately determine their immediate success or failure at the work place. Nevertheless, there are many instances in which there has been no ‘gap’ and a smooth and easy transition into the workplace has occurred. Often, student’s are already gainfully employed throughout university, mostly part-time or shift work, which nonetheless gives them appropriate training and maturity to be ready for their future industry.

    This confidence and preparedness has already put them miles ahead of any other student who is not already exposed to life in the “real” world. Added to that, the industry itself has the ability to teach or remind new graduates of key attributes that are sought after. Industry representatives can improve the students’ communication and social skills as well as provide the knowledge of how the industry relates to their chosen coursework. There are several solutions to this proposed gap between theory and practice. Student’s lack of concentration can be amended with different teaching styles.

    Teachers need to have the ability to adapt and grow as well as they expect their students to. If teacher’s could come up with new methods to be educational and keep student’s interested as well, for example, by incorporating “real life” scenario’s for assessment. This would keep the student’s attention as it may seem out of the ordinary as well as provide the teacher the opportunity to really educate students about the given industry, while at the same time aid the development of the characteristics and attributes recognised to be crucial to employability.

    However, it can be argued that most of these generic skills and attributes are just things one learns throughout one’s life. Despite that, universities should attempt to bridge this gap by trying to assist in the development of these attributes, through things such as group work, team work exercises, problem solving, and various communication tasks; all of which could be incorporated throughout the given coursework. Added to this, teachers need to utilise the extended skill description frameworks.

    As well as, using tools and new teaching methods to interpret skills and terms required in the industry to “translate” these terms and skills to educate the students. The best way a teacher can equip their student for the industry is to properly instil the generic persona the industry is after, this is inclusive of all the skills and attributes already identified as vital. Once the student has received this “all-round” and all-inclusive education about the industry, they will set foot into the work place confident and continue to grow and develop.

    Finally, the industry itself needs to collaborate with universities in order to inform of the latest trends or skills required and keep communication on-going. If the industry is able to communicate with the university to provide insight as to what they are really looking for when employing new graduates, that gives student’s a competitive advantage. The solution to bridging the theory practice gap is only going to be achieved when there is open collaboration between the industry, university and student, in regards to communication, education, awareness, and overall preparedness. References

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